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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution UNDERSTANDING CLIMATE’S INFLUENCE ON HUMAN EVOLUTION Committee on the Earth System Context for Hominin Evolution Board on Earth Sciences and Resources Division on Earth and Life Studies NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS Washington, D.C. www.nap.edu
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations contained in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. government. Supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. EAR-0625247. International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-14838-2 (Book) International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-14838-3 (Book) International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-14839-9 (PDF) International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-14839-1 (PDF) Library of Congress Control Number: 2010921862 Additional copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 20055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area); Internet http://www.nap.edu Cover: Cover design by Francesca Moghari. Front Cover: Five fossil human skulls show how the shape of the face and braincase of early humans changed over the past 2.5 million years (from left to right: Australopithecus africanus, 2.5 million years old; Homo rudolfensis, 1.9 million years old; Homo erectus, ~1 million years old; Homo heidelbergensis, ~350,000 years old; Homo sapiens, ~4,800 years old). The images are courtesy of the Human Origins Program of the Smithsonian Institution and photo credits include Chip Clark, Jim DiLoreto, and Don Hurlbert, all of the Smithsonian Institution. The bottom image is a composite image with an oxygen isotope record from and courtesy of James Zachos. The cracked mud image is courtesy of Free Nature Pictures. The woodland image is courtesy of Kaye Reed, National Science Foundation. Back Cover: The drill rig is courtesy of Jason Agnich, University of Minnesota-Duluth. The wetland, savannah, and ground examination images are also courtesy of Kaye Reed. Copyright 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council. www.national-academies.org
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution COMMITTEE ON THE EARTH SYSTEM CONTEXT FOR HOMININ EVOLUTION ROBERT M. HAMILTON (Chair) Independent Consultant, Zelienople, Pennsylvania BERHANE ASFAW, Rift Valley Research Service, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia GAIL M. ASHLEY, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey THURE E. CERLING, University of Utah, Salt Lake City ANDREW S. COHEN, University of Arizona, Tucson PETER B. DEMENOCAL, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, New York ANDREW P. HILL, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut THOMAS C. JOHNSON, University of Minnesota, Duluth JOHN E. KUTZBACH, University of Wisconsin, Madison RICHARD POTTS, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. KAYE E. REED, Arizona State University, Tempe (resigned May 2009) ALAN R. ROGERS, University of Utah, Salt Lake City ALAN C. WALKER, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park National Research Council Staff DAVID A. FEARY, Study Director NICHOLAS D. ROGERS, Research Associate JENNIFER T. ESTEP, Financial and Administrative Associate TONYA E. FONG YEE, Senior Program Assistant
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution BOARD ON EARTH SCIENCES AND RESOURCES CORALE L. BRIERLEY (Chair), Brierley Consultancy, LLC, Highlands Ranch, Colorado KEITH C. CLARKE, University of California, Santa Barbara DAVID J. COWEN, University of South Carolina, Columbia WILLIAM E. DIETRICH, University of California, Berkeley ROGER M. DOWNS, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park JEFF DOZIER, University of California, Santa Barbara KATHERINE H. FREEMAN, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park WILLIAM L. GRAF, University of South Carolina, Columbia RUSSELL J. HEMLEY, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C. MURRAY W. HITZMAN, Colorado School of Mines, Golden EDWARD KAVAZANJIAN, JR., Arizona State University, Tempe LOUISE H. KELLOGG, University of California, Davis ROBERT B. MCMASTER, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis CLAUDIA INÉS MORA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico BRIJ M. MOUDGIL, University of Florida, Gainesville CLAYTON R. NICHOLS, Department of Energy, Idaho Operations Office (Retired), Ocean Park, Washington JOAQUIN RUIZ, University of Arizona, Tucson PETER M. SHEARER, University of California, San Diego REGINAL SPILLER, Allied Energy, Houston, Texas RUSSELL E. STANDS-OVER-BULL, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Denver, Colorado TERRY C. WALLACE, JR., Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico HERMAN B. ZIMMERMAN, National Science Foundation (Retired), Portland, Oregon National Research Council Staff ANTHONY R. DE SOUZA, Director ELIZABETH A. EIDE, Senior Program Officer DAVID A. FEARY, Senior Program Officer ANNE M. LINN, Senior Program Officer SAMMANTHA L. MAGSINO, Program Officer MARK D. LANGE, Associate Program Officer LEA A. SHANLEY, Postdoctoral Fellow JENNIFER T. ESTEP, Financial and Administrative Associate NICHOLAS D. ROGERS, Financial and Research Associate COURTNEY R. GIBBS, Program Associate JASON R. ORTEGO, Research Associate ERIC J. EDKIN, Senior Program Assistant TONYA E. FONG YEE, Senior Program Assistant
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution Preface Understanding the origins of humanity has long been one of our foremost intellectual pursuits, and one that greatly interests the general public as evidenced by museum attendance and by numerous media productions and general interest publications. Progress toward an improved understanding of our heritage is a continuing challenge for the scientific community, requiring advances in a range of disciplines that include archaeology, anthropology, geology, biology, oceanography, and genetics, and particularly research advances in areas where two or more of these fields intersect. One of the key questions in this interdisciplinary quest is how the environment, and specifically climate, shaped the evolution of our species and that of our close relatives. Some of the most critical world issues today also bear on human evolution, in the sense that how we got here is relevant to where we are going as a species. For example, global warming, population growth with its attendant demands on limited resources, pandemic threats of virulent diseases, and availability of weapons that can cause massive damage and render parts of the globe uninhabitable, all demand more rational policy decisions that take into account the long evolutionary process that brought humanity to world dominance. Perhaps a greater appreciation of what the people of the world have in common, rather than their differences, might encourage more cooperation. Although recent advances in knowledge of human evolution have been substantial, they really have only laid the groundwork for future achievements. New methodologies for establishing the ages of specimens and analyzing them with sophisticated instrumentation, and for acquiring information about past environments through drilling on land and in lakes and the ocean, set the stage for further discoveries. Accelerated research not only offers potential for highly significant
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution advances, there is also an urgency in moving ahead due not only to the global and regional threats mentioned above, but also to the loss of potential specimen sites as a result of development and even vandalism. Although research activity at the intersection of different scientific disciplines is inherently difficult, such research carries with it great potential for advances that can transform understanding. Although the usual issues of differing perspectives and different jargon were encountered during this study, the challenges of providing recommendations for new approaches that would guide research activity over the next decade or more provided the incentive to bridge the divisions. Our deliberations were particularly helped by the open community workshop hosted by the committee, with its focus on receiving a broad range of input from many experts whose disciplinary fields impinged upon the broad scope of the committee’s charge. This input, and the presentations by other experts at committee meetings, provided a solid base for informing the committee’s deliberations and recommendations. Robert M. Hamilton Chair
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution Acknowledgments This report was greatly enhanced by those who made presentations to the committee at the public committee meetings and by the participants at the open workshop sponsored by the committee to gain community input—Leslie Aiello, Ray Bernor, René Bobe, Erik Brown, Frank Brown, Tony de Souza, Larry Edwards, Sarah Feakins, Mikael Fortelius, Don Grayson, Tim Herbert, Tim Jull, Rich Kay, Dennis Kent, Chris Kuzawa, Rich Lane, Peter Molnar, Curtis Marean, Kathleen Nicoll, Dolores Piperno, Todd Preuss, Christina Ravelo, Bill Ruddiman, Jim Russell, Jeff Schuffert, Eugenie Scott, Steven Stanley, Peter Ungar, Xiaoming Wang, Ken Weiss, Mark Weiss, Tim White, and John Yellen. The presentations and discussions at these meetings provided invaluable input and context for the committee’s deliberations. This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report: René Bobe, Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, Athens John G. Fleagle, Department of Anatomical Sciences, State University of New York, Stony Brook Terry Harrison, Department of Anthropology, New York University
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution Jeffrey T. Kiehl, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado Richard G. Klein, Department of Anthropology and Department of Biology, Stanford University, California Mark A. Maslin, Department of Geography, University College London, United Kingdom David Pilbeam, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology and Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts Anne C. Stone, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe Bernard A. Wood, Department of Anthropology, George Washington University, Washington, D.C. Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by P. Geoffrey Feiss, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, appointed by the Divison on Earth and Life Studies, who was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution Contents SUMMARY 1 1 INTRODUCTION 9 Human Interactions with Ecosystems, 10 Demonstrating Causality for Human-Environmental Interactions, 12 Committee Charge and Scope of This Study, 14 2 EXISTING UNDERSTANDING OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL CONTEXT FOR HOMININ EVOLUTION 16 Major Events in Human Evolution, 16 Major Events in Earth System History Associated with Human Evolution, 23 Paleobiological Context of Human Evolution, 29 Human Modification of Ecosystems, 37 Summary Environment-Evolution Chronology, 39 3 THE RESEARCH VISION—PRIORITY RESEARCH THEMES 44 Theme I: Determining the Impacts of Climate Change and Climate Variability on Human Evolution and Dispersal, 46 Theme II: Integrating Climate Modeling, Environmental Records, and Biotic Responses, 50
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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution 4 IMPLEMENTING AN INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC PROGRAM FOR CLIMATE AND HUMAN EVOLUTION RESEARCH 58 International Exploration Initiative: Addressing the Urgent Need for More Fossils, 60 Integrated Marine, Lake, and Terrestrial Drilling Program, 62 Integrated High-Resolution Earth System Modeling and Detailed Environmental Records, 71 Program Support Components, 74 Public Outreach Opportunities, 81 5 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 85 REFERENCES 93 APPENDIXES A Committee and Staff Biographies 107 B Presentations to the Committe 112 C Acronyms and Abbreviations 114